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Training business negotiation

As a practical skill, business negotiation is predestined for pedagogical approaches. The title of an article by Loewenstein and Thompson (2006), “Learning to negotiate: Novice and experienced negotiators”, is symptomatic of the great interest in learning and teaching how to negotiate in business that has emerged in the last few decades. Negotiation skills are a popular topic not only in business English textbooks (Gimenez 2001:169); much of the specialized literature is also concerned with how to teach businesspeople to negotiate successfully (examples are Mulholland 1991; Neu and Graham 1995; Rehbein 1995; Rathmayr, Fellerer, and Klingseis 1998). This trend is the result of a long tradition, which derives from the need to instruct merchants on how to bargain, especially in foreign languages, as is evident from the great relevance that merchant phrasebooks have had in the course of history (see also Chapter 2 of this handbook). Some titles include the German Das alteste italienisch-deutsche Sprachbuch from 1424 (Pausch 1972), the Middle Low German phrasebook by Tonnies Fenne from 1607 (Gernentz 1988), the Italian-Dutch phrase- book Een koopman in Venetie from the late Middle Ages (van der Helm et al. 2001), or the Vocabularium Latinis, Gallicis et Theuthonicis verbis scriptum (n.n. 1514), in which a German merchant could learn how to bargain about accommodation and supper in a harborage in French (Kaltz 2010: 123) (see also Messner 2000, for Spanish-German instructions from the 17th century).

Most authors stress that courses in business negotiation should be aimed at increasing not just students’ negotiating skills but also their analytical abilities and knowledge of business in general (Salacuse 2010: 217). Others, like Neumann (1995: 36), focus on the professional, pragmatic, and linguistic relevance of certain speech- acts, such as formulating requests, and plead (e.g., Trosborg 1989: 216; Trosborg 1995) for greater attention to socio-pragmatic aspects and discourse competence in language teaching. Other authors again warn that different cultures have different degrees of communicative complexity, for example, in terms of possible language variants. Classic examples are the Greek diglossia, comprising modern vernacular dimotik vs. the artificially archaic katharevousa, and the Arabic triglossia, which includes a number of spoken regional (and supra-regional, e.g. Egyptian) varieties vs. classical Arabic, the language of the sacred texts, vs. Modern Standard Arabic, a standard predominantly used in the media. Mulholland (1991: 82-83) suggests that this issue must be taken seriously since it may have consequences for the negotiation process. A potentially dangerous scenario would be misinterpreting a switch between one variety (e.g., katharevousa) and another (e.g., dimotik) in intercultural business negotiations. Such a switch, intended by the speaker as a move from formal to friendly, might be interpreted by a fellow negotiator not acquainted with the socio-cultural value of the two varieties as a move from serious to trivial. Specifically, an English-speaking negotiator might then feel free to switch to casual uses of colloquial English, which the other party could perceive as inappropriate.

A hotly debated topic in the context of business negotiation training is the use of a lingua franca in intercultural settings (see Firth 1990; Stalpers 1993; Rehbein 1995; Louhiala-Salminen et al. 2005; Nickerson 2005; Planken 2005). Originally, “lingua franca” referred to a Romance-based pidgin (mostly made up by varieties of Italo-Romance, but also including elements from Spanish, French, Portuguese, as well as Arabic, Turkish, Greek and Persian; Wansbrough 1996:137) used for purposes of trade along the south-eastern Mediterranean between the 15th and the 19th century (Meierkord and Knapp 2002: 9). Nowadays, the object of research on lingua franca is almost exclusively English (e.g., Seidlhofer 2011) because it has become the language of trade, business and international financial transactions. Nevertheless, most authors concur in warning that English is not adequate as the generalized language of commerce, and especially in business negotiations. For example, Rehbein

(1995: 98) stresses that the buyer’s native language is fundamental, and claims that its use is preferable. Some authors (e.g., Frade 2005:155) take a practical stance and propose offering specialist courses in English for international business, in order to reduce any kind of asymmetry due to different levels of language proficiency. Planken (2005) has tested two groups of negotiators, all of them lingua-franca speakers of English for specific business purposes, one being composed of professional negotiators, the other of novices. She observes that both groups have access to a similarly limited linguistic repertoire, in terms of vocabulary, ungrammaticality, etc., but that the professionals nevertheless do better in terms of tactical effect. Her conclusion is that the main differences in verbal behavior between the groups studied derive from pragmatic and strategic competence rather than language proficiency (Planken 2005: 398). Yet, although the current trends outlined so far show a growing attention to the teaching of courses in international business negotiation (Salacuse 2010; Kirgis 2012), there is still a remarkable lack of publications in languages other than English on the need to train students to negotiate in a second or third language, and on how to do that. They are urgently needed.

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